Project opponents fear gas leaks

Part 3 in a series

Issues raised about the Red Lake Gas Storage Project prompted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to announce Friday that the staff now plans to prepare a full scale Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

One of the issues raised by opponents of the project is the potential danger of natural gas leakage once the salt caverns are constructed and operational (in about two years).

Information from project owner Aquila about the proposed Red Lake Storage Project indicates two or more salt caverns will be built to store natural gas, which will then be piped to existing interstate pipelines.

Wording in Aquila's application for permission to construct and operate the Red Lake Storage facility and distribute natural gas through pipelines - filed with the FERC - would allow the company to construct additional storage facilities at Red Lake.

"I think they are planning to build a lot of gas storage facilities there," said Robert Fenwick, a member of a coalition opposing the Red Lake Gas Storage Project.

Fenwick, who lives in the Red Lake area, is also concerned that the natural gas pumped to and from the proposed storage facilities will be odorless, a factor that makes leaks difficult to detect.

Luis Vega, a registered geologist hired by the city of Kingman to evaluate the project, is concerned about natural gas at the casing (pipe that goes into the storage well) where 3,000 pounds per square inch of pressure will pump gas in and out of the storage area as needed.

"There is a real concern at the well: Can the seal withstand those kinds of pressure?" asked "If the gas escapes it will go up to the top where fresh water is, where trace elements can contaminate the water ..."

Also, a leak at the metering station and terminus, located close to Interstate 40 and D W Ranch Road, "wouldn't affect the water but would "cause one heck of an explosion, as it did in Kansas," Vega said.

The incident Vega refers to occurred in Hutchinson, Kan., in January 2001, when natural gas leaked, causing a series of explosions that killed one man, critically injured his wife, and displaced hundreds of people from their homes, according to The Hutchinson News.

Another situation in Conway, Kan., involved liquid propane stored beneath the town in salt caverns that leaked into local wells, contaminating the water.

The July 11, 1980 edition of the Salina (Kansas) Journal reported that, "Some residents have said they can ignite water from their garden hoses with a match," and Donna Hoppe said, "the water smelled and tasted funny."

Mark Cook, the Red Lake Gas Storage Project manager, said those types of situations are not likely to happen with the Red Lake Gas Storage Project because only new equipment is being used for the project and the system will be monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In a December letter Mayor Les Byram stated that the city is concerned about natural gas leakage and the location of the proposed pipeline.

Byram also expressed concern that natural gas would percolate through the aquifer and harm groundwater quality if the gas were to leak from the caverns or the casing, possibly causing explosions.

He urged Aquila to take another look at the route for the pipeline, which would pass through areas with existing homes and proposed housing developments.

Aquila is seeking approval for its proposed route south through the Hualapai Basin along the west side of Route 66, crossing Route 66 south of the Kingman Airport and continuing on to the terminus near D W Ranch Road south of Interstate 40.

The route would affect 414 acres and 54 landowners.

It also runs adjacent to a city wastewater treatment facility and a planned housing development.

In addition to evaluating the environmental impacts of the Red Lake Project as originally proposed, FERC will also evaluate alternative routes to the proposed 36-inch diameter gas delivery pipeline route to determine if any are more environmentally preferable routes.